Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Appeals Court Justice Reuben Ortega Slates December Retirement
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
Justice Reuben A. Ortega of this district’s Court of Appeal has told colleagues and court officials he plans to retire in December, the MetNews learned yesterday.
Ortega, of Div. One, could not be reached for comment. He has served on the court since 1988.
In 1993, Ortega was one of several appellate jurists whose names were forwarded by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation as possible successors to Supreme Court Justice Edward A. Panelli. That appointment eventually went to then-First District Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren of Div. Two, who is also this district’s administrative presiding justice, yesterday called Ortega a “one of a kind guy on this court.” The justice, Boren said, has a “humorous perspective on a lot of things and a very insightful appreciation of some of the legal conundrums we get.”
He added that Ortega is “more apt to give you something incisive than a lot of other people.”
“We’ll miss him at our courtwide meetings,” Boren said. “He doesn’t speak a lot, but when he does, everybody listens.”
Justice Robert Mallano of Div. One called his colleague “a dear friend.”
“He’s very witty,” Mallano commented. “He’s very eloquent, especially when the topic is of great interest to him, such as zombies.”
Mallano recalled an unpublished opinion in a case in which a criminal defendant had disclaimed responsibility, arguing he was a “zombie” at the time of the events in question. Ortega, a Star Trek fan and science fiction aficionado, “really got all wrapped up in it,” Mallano said, explaining in his opinion the various types of zombies and their distinguishing characteristics.
“He’s very smart—although you can’t tell from some of the dissents to my opinions,” Mallano observed, noting that while Ortega is “very quick with the repartee” his wit is “more enjoyable when you’re not at the pointed end of his rapier.”
“He’s very industrious, unique and one of a kind, and to that extent irreplaceable,” Mallano declared. “I will miss him sorely.”
Boren said he believes Ortega’s retirement plans include “going off to ranch,” and Mallano noted that his colleague owns horses and some acreage in Riverside County.
The justice, who will turn 63 in December, is a native of New Mexico who earned his undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico and his law degree at Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C. After law school he spent over three years as an adjudicator with the Veterans Administration before becoming a Los Angeles deputy district attorney in 1967.
He had a private law practice in Long Beach from 1973 until 1977, when he became a Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner.
Ortega left his judicial position to serve as assistant district attorney—the No. 3 position in the office—under Robert Philibosian in 1983 and 1984. Then-Gov. George Deukmejian named him to the Superior Court in 1984 and to the Court of Appeal four years later.
In 1998, Ortega wrote an opinion for Div. One in Loth v. Truck-A-Way Corporation, 60 Cal. App. 4th 757, in which the court held that a plaintiff may not present expert testimony regarding the value of “hedonic” damages—those that compensate an injured party for the loss of enjoyment of life. He explained that such testimony was not sufficiently beyond common experience to justify expert testimony under Evidence Code Sec. 801(a).
“No amount of expert testimony on the value of life could possibly help a jury decide that difficult question,” Ortega wrote. “A life is not a stock, car, home, or other such item bought and sold in some marketplace.”
In another 1998 opinion, later ordered depublished, Ortega said the state and county could be held vicariously liable for sexual misconduct by then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge George Trammell. Both misconduct which took place in chambers and that which occurred at the judge’s home could be found to be within the scope of his employment, Ortega explained.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company